A person who is addicted to heroin will experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop using or reduce their usage significantly. These symptoms can be so uncomfortable that individuals keep taking heroin in an effort to avoid them. However, withdrawal symptoms are also a part of the detoxification process which is the first step in overcoming heroin addiction. If you or someone you love wants to get clean, it’s best to enroll in a medically-supervised detox program. Trying to detox on your own can be quite dangerous and even fatal in some circumstances depending on your history and other medications. In this article, we’ll go over some heroin basics and then get into detail about heroin withdrawal symptoms.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid drug that’s made from the opium poppy plant. It can be smoked, inhaled, or injected. When consumed, it becomes morphine once again and binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and body. People who use it for the first time experience a rush of pleasure and joy and an overwhelming sense of wellbeing. This leaves them wanting more and can easily lead to the development of tolerance – needing more and more heroin to get the effects they did the first time.
Chronic heroin use can result in physical and psychological dependence. Physical dependence is when a person needs to continue using heroin or other opioids to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, psychological dependence is when a person believes they can’t function without heroin. These are both indicators of addiction.
Heroin addiction is a chronic disease that’s marked by functional and structural changes in the brain and compulsive drug-seeking behaviors despite negative consequences. As the disease progresses, the individual may lose interest in everything except heroin. Like any other chronic disease, addiction needs to be treated by professionals.
What is Heroin Withdrawal?
Heroin withdrawal symptoms occur when the body is trying to adjust to the absence of the drug. They can begin within a few hours of the last dose if you have been consistently using heroin. Symptoms vary from person to person and they can range from mild to severe. The duration of the withdrawal period can also vary. A lot depends on how long a person was using heroin, how they used it, and how much they used each time.
Withdrawal symptoms tend to be the opposite of what a person experiences when they’re high on heroin. Therefore, they may experience a rapid heart rate, depressed mood, anxiety, and pain among other symptoms.
Common Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal can be quite similar to the bad flu. Mild symptoms can include:
- Chills and sweats
- Runny nose
- Abdominal cramps
- Excessive yawning
- Muscle aches and joint pain
Some people experience moderate heroin withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Problems concentrating
Severe symptoms include:
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty breathing
- Heroin cravings
- High blood pressure
Heroin withdrawal isn’t typically life-threatening on its own. However, life-threatening complications can develop as a result of some of the symptoms. For example, a person who is severely depressed may attempt suicide.
This is why you should never suddenly stop using heroin on your own. If you’re thinking about coming off heroin, you should talk to a medical doctor, mental health professional, or addiction counselor so you can get guidance on the next steps. When you enter a rehab facility, you’ll get the support you need to stay safe and as comfortable as possible while you detox.
What’s the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Like?
It’s difficult to predict what a particular individual will experience and each person’s timeline will be different. However, acute withdrawal symptoms tend to begin within 6 to 12 hours of the last dose. They typically peak in two to three days and last for five to ten days altogether. Some symptoms come and go throughout the process.
People who enter a facility for medical detox usually do so before the heroin has completely left their system. Detoxification usually lasts for five to seven days but a person who is heavily dependent on heroin may need up to ten days. During medical detox, patients are given both medications and therapy to help them adjust. Doctors monitor their temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing throughout the process.
In the first 6 to 24 hours after the last dose, symptoms tend to include insomnia, tremors, anxiety, drug cravings, muscle aches and pains, diarrhea, and poor concentration.
Individuals tend to experience the most intense symptoms over days one to three. The symptoms that appeared during the first 24 hours often worsen and new issues arise such as fatigue, irritability, nausea, vomiting, and stomach aches.
After the first three days, the physical symptoms gradually go away. By the end of seven days, the acute stage of withdrawal is over for the most part but some psychological symptoms may linger.
Factors That Influence the Timeline
Some of the factors influencing heroin withdrawal include:
- The severity of the addiction
- The individual’s level of tolerance
- The person’s overall health
- How long the person was using heroin
- Whether the person has a history of previous opioid dependence
- Whether the person was abusing multiple substances
People who use heroin for a long time may experience insomnia, anxiety, depression, and irritability for weeks or months after they quit. If symptoms worsen or do not go away after a long period, the individual may have a co-occurring disorder that requires treatment.
Substance addiction often occurs along with one or more mental illnesses. These can include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Personality disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorder
- Other substance addictions
If a person has co-occurring mental health problems, these need to be treated at the same time as the addiction.
Some people also develop post-acute heroin withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms persist after the acute withdrawal phase and they can come and go. Each episode may last for a few days and this can continue for up to a year. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is more likely to occur in people whose opioid use isn’t properly tapered off. If they experience the full intensity of acute withdrawal, they are more at risk of developing post-acute symptoms including cognitive impairment, cravings, and exhaustion.
Heroin Detox Risks
Some people are curious about detoxing on their own at home. However, this isn’t recommended. Even if your symptoms are short-lived, they can be overwhelming. The cravings alone are enough to cause some people to relapse when they don’t have the benefit of professional support. A number of things can go wrong during the process and if there’s no one there to offer medical or psychological support, the outcome is unlikely to be positive.
In many cases, people who are addicted to heroin are already dealing with other physical, emotional, and psychological problems. While in the grips of addiction, they may have ignored nutrition, exercise, and dental care. People who abuse heroin are also at greater risk of developing hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, and pulmonary issues. These conditions can make people more vulnerable to vomiting, diarrhea, and heart rate changes that can accompany detox.
Heroin detox risks include:
- Potentially fatal overdose
- Complications from existing medical problems
- Withdrawal psychosis
- Severe pain
These risks can be controlled during medically-supervised detox.
Some people want to detox from heroin at home because it’s cheaper. They may not think they can afford professional help. Others worry that others will find out about their addiction if they enter a facility. Still, other people think the process will be easier if they’re in the comfort of their home. All these considerations are understandable. However, as we noted earlier, addiction is a disease. Simply wanting to quit isn’t enough to achieve lasting sobriety.
Medically Supervised Detox for Heroin
Detoxification is the process of clearing toxins from the body. It is the first stage of treatment for heroin addiction. Medically supervised detox helps to reduce the severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms and ease the transition into recovery. Typically, recovery from heroin addiction involves a gradual reduction in the individual’s opioid consumption to help keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.
Heroin withdrawal medication can be administered to alleviate the symptoms and reduce cravings. A person who tries to detox alone at home is unlikely to know what to do to manage their withdrawal symptoms. They also won’t have access to the medications they need and they can cause severe damage to their health.
When the detox process is complete, individuals are ready to move on to a rehabilitation program. Inpatient programs tend to be most effective since it allows for intensive treatment. There are various forms of counseling and therapy available and they’re designed to help people get to the bottom of their addiction, manage stress and triggers, and make healthier decisions. Detox and rehab set the foundations for long-term heroin recovery.
Suboxone and Heroin Withdrawal
Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, is one of the prescription medications that can be used in the treatment of heroin addiction. It is approved for use during opioid withdrawal and as a form of maintenance therapy. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. This means it reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings while producing weaker effects than heroin. Suboxone may also prevent other opioids from binding to and activating your opioid receptors and this can prevent you from abusing other opioids.
The risk of abusing Suboxone or overdosing on it is lower than with other opioids since there’s a limit on how much your opioid receptors can be activated. This reduces the likelihood of your breathing slowing down to dangerous levels which is one of the main dangers associated with opioid overdose.
Methadone and Heroin Withdrawals
Methadone is another option for treating heroin addiction and it has been used for many years. It is a long-acting opioid and it is used in place of heroin which is a short-acting drug. Methadone reduces withdrawal symptoms by activating your opioid receptors in much the same way that heroin does.
However, there’s no rapid, intense euphoria and it can stay in the bloodstream for a full day. The dosage is gradually tapered off until the individual is opioid-free. It is important to know that individuals can become dependent on methadone especially if they take doses that are higher than prescribed or they abuse it in other ways.
Long-Term Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Keep in mind that detox is just the beginning. Many people continue to feel unwell and experience strong cravings for about six months following acute withdrawal. Professional and peer support is key during this period since the risk of relapse is high. A combination of behavioral therapies and medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone is often recommended.
On the therapeutic side, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management are commonly used. CBT is designed to help people modify the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their drug use. Contingency management offers rewards for staying drug-free.
Seek Treatment from Circle of Hope in Southern California
The initial rush of euphoria after using heroin can quickly lead to a compulsion that affects every aspect of one’s life. Fortunately, help is available and recovery is possible with the right professional support.
Circle of Hope has developed a reputation as one of the best addiction treatment facilities in California. We can provide the ideal setting for recovery from heroin addiction. Our highly-trained professionals offer personalized treatment that takes each individual’s unique circumstances into consideration.
Even though heroin withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, detox is a necessary part of recovery. We’ll do everything we can to keep you safe and comfortable during treatment so you can move on to the next stage of your recovery journey.
There’s no need to try to get better on your own when we offer a full continuum of care. Contact us today to learn more about the holistic treatment programs we offer.